Law enforcement officers walk in the Belarusian capital of Minsk on February 12, 2023. Authorities recently sentenced three journalists to 15 days in prison each. (AFP/Natalie Kolesnikova)

Belarus orders 3 journalists detained for 15 days

Paris, March 27, 2023—Belarusian authorities should drop all charges against journalists Dzmitry Suslau, Syarhei Stankevich, and Aleh Rubchenya, and free them immediately, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Monday.

On March 17, a court in the central city of Slutsk ordered Stankevich, the chief editor of the local independent newspaper Infa-Kurier, and Rubchenya, the paper’s deputy editor, to be detained for 15 days for allegedly disobeying police, according to media reports and the Belarusian Association of Journalists, an advocacy and trade group operating from exile.

Separately, on March 23, law enforcement in the eastern city of Babruysk detained Suslau, a reporter for the local weekly Kommercheskiy Kurier, according to media reports and the BAJ. The following day, authorities ordered him to also be held for 15 days for “distributing extremist materials,” those reports said.

“Belarusian authorities are once again using spurious charges to harass members of the press, simply in retaliation for their work as journalists,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Authorities must immediately release Dzmitry Suslau, Syarhei Stankevich, and Aleh Rubchenya, as well as all other journalists held for their work.”

On March 15, authorities searched Infa-Kurier’s office, seized technical equipment, and detained four of its journalists, including Stankevich and Rubchenya; the other two were later released.

On March 24, a pro-government Telegram channel published a video blaming Infa-Kurier for its “one-sided” coverage of Belarus in 2020, according to media reports. The outlet had covered that year’s nationwide protests demanding the resignation of President Aleksandr Lukashenko.

Those news reports do not specify how Stankevich and Rubchenya allegedly disobeyed police.

Authorities have also not disclosed the exact reason for Suslau’s detention, according to those reports. In recent articles reviewed by CPJ, Suslau covered local news and environmental topics. Authorities previously detained Suslau in June 2022 and ordered him to be arrested for 15 days, also on extremism charges.

CPJ is also investigating the March 17 sentencing of Belarusian blogger Dzmitry Harbunou to 18 months in prison for allegedly insulting Lukashenko and a police officer, to determine if he was targeted for his journalism. Shortly after he was detained in January 2023, Harbunou said in a “confession video” that he used to work with independent news websites Brestskaya Gazeta and Nasha Niva, and filmed protests for Brestskaya Gazeta.

Authorities labeled Brestkskaya Gazeta as “extremist” earlier this month.

CPJ emailed the Belarusian Investigative Committee for comment but did not receive any response.

Belarus was the world’s fifth worst jailer of journalists, with at least 26 journalists behind bars on December 1, 2022, when CPJ conducted its most recent prison census.

[Editors’ note: This article has been changed throughout to correct the spelling of Rubchenya’s name.]